Solo female travel has been on the rise in recent years. In the background—and sometimes, at the forefront—is the persistent discourse on safety. In the Facebook group Solo Female Travelers, which has more than 130,000 members, safety concerns are as prevalent as selfies and recommendation requests. But as with so many things, there’s an app for that.
In 2020, Tel Aviv entrepreneur Neta Schreiber created SafeUp, a free app that uses a crowdsourced community to alleviate some of the anxieties women face when journeying alone. Last year, the app expanded to the United States (in New York, San Francisco, Boston, and most recently, Miami) and now serves approximately 100,000 women in 39 countries, including Australia, Iceland, Spain, Canada, and France. “We based [the app] on the nature of women and on the solidarity of women,” says Schreiber, who cofounded SafeUp with entrepreneur Tal Zohar. “We have not invented anything; women were keeping each other safe and always helping each other. We just encouraged that in the modern world.”
SafeUp is simple to use. If a woman finds herself in a situation where she feels uncomfortable—a late-night walk back to the hotel, or from the office to home—she can open the app and see a map showing “guardians” (SafeUp’s title for its 10,000 volunteer helpers) in her area, who are available for phone or video calls: To be connected, all she has to do is hit the call guardian button. Guardians can also show up in person as a walking buddy or help call the police. (If a traveler is in imminent danger, SafeUp encourages them to first call the police.) For additional security, a traveler’s location is only shared with local guardians when they ask for help.
To enable guardians to reach members quickly, SafeUp has partnered with Lime to provide free scooter rides in select cities. The app also employs a back-up team that answers calls 24/7 if no local guardian is available. “I think it’s important for travelers to know that even if there is no guardian in walking distance, there’s still someone who’s going to answer—this is something that we can promise,” Schreiber says. “You will not be alone.”
To join the community, a new member enters their phone number, name, gender (options are Woman and Other), and a profile photo, and then the app uses a video and question process to verify their identity. Members of the nonbinary and genderqueer community are allowed to apply to join SafeUp; men are not, though that could change. Per the SafeUp website: “We believe that men are an essential part of the creation of a safer world. In the future we plan to explore ways for men to contribute to SafeUp (with the express permission and consent of our users).”
Google Maps, Apple, and Facebook offer location sharing, and specialized safety apps like BSafe and the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler app offer that mechanism plus additional emergency resources. But what distinguishes SafeUp is the real-time responses from volunteers.
All guardians must complete a training course and be over 18. Shai Bachar, 25, is a SafeUp guardian in New York City. She learned about the app on social media and thought it was a meaningful way to help and be helped—especially since she felt that location-sharing alone isn’t always useful. “Sometimes, when you’re traveling, it’s the middle of the night in your home country,” she says, noting that your loved ones might not be awake to answer your call.
Since joining SafeUp a year ago, Bachar has been busy with requests. “I often get calls around 11 p.m., or calls from all over the world when it’s nighttime at the destination,” she says. “It could be a student walking to their dorm, a mother in an empty strip mall parking lot, a tourist.” Bachar herself has used SafeUp as a traveler and says her work as a guardian is about assisting where she can. “I feel like I’m helping women with something that I myself could use help with,” she says. “The act of supporting someone when they call you sounds small, but sometimes it’s all it takes to help them feel secure.”
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